Category Archives: Agile

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Kanban in de praktijk – Growing Agile

Focus aanbrengen en zaken daadwerkelijk afmaken voordat je aan iets nieuws begint. Het klinkt zo eenvoudig, maar in de praktijk blijkt dit toch lastiger dan gedacht. Met – het van Japanse origine zijnde Kanban – kun je deze uitdaging te lijf gaan.

In het boek Kanban in de praktijk leggen Karen Greaves en Sam Laing stap voor stap uit hoe je Kanban voor je kunt laten werken. Er is geen technische of praktische voorkennis benodigd, het boek is voornamelijk gericht op beginnende teams en organisaties.

De auteurs hebben vanuit hun bedrijf Growing Agile inmiddels al een aantal publicaties op hun naam staan. Ze beschrijven steeds concrete thema’s uit het Agile werkveld. Zo ook Kanban in de praktijk, de Nederlandse vertaling van Kanban Workbook uit 2016. Aan de hand van het fictieve hoveniersbedrijf Growing Garden nemen Greaves en Laing de mogelijkheden van Kanban door. Door de geleidelijke opbouw, zonder gebruik van jargon of bijvoorbeeld IT-gerelateerde termen, is dit boek geschikt voor iedereen die met Kanban aan de slag wil om meer te doen in minder tijd.

Inleiding
Hfd 1. Werk visualiseren
Hfd 2. WIP en pull
Hfd 3. Doorstroom verbeteren
Hfd 4. Expliciete afspraken
Hfd 5. Samen verbeteren
Bijlage – Personal Kanban
Bijlage – Het vliegtuigspel

De verhaallijn is duidelijk. Er wordt een gezamenlijk project gestart door Linda, Ellen en Joost, tussen de reguliere werkzaamheden van iedereen door. De drie besluiten Kanban in te zetten met als doel dat het werk, het schrijven van een boek, daadwerkelijk afkomt. In elk volgend hoofdstuk leren onze hoveniers dat er best nog wat verbeterd kan worden aan de opzet die zij tot dan toe gebruikten. De leercurve die zij meemaken zie je ook vaak in de praktijk terug, met trial en error ontstaat een werkwijze die passend is voor situatie.

Qua theoretische volledigheid zit het boek goed. De basisprincipes worden uitgelegd en daarna komen vaste onderdelen aan bod: initiële Kanbanborden, WIP-limieten per persoon of kolom, creëren van Pull en spelregels. Het geheel wordt aangevuld met praktische tips, voorbeelden en vragen voor de lezer. Op deze wijze rol je eenvoudig door een scala van opties en kun je de beste opties voor je eigen situatie bepalen. De suggestie die de auteurs geven om na ieder hoofdstuk zelf met de aanpassingen en vragen aan de slag te gaan, is nuttig. Zo ervaar je direct wat voor- of nadelen van bepaalde keuzes zijn.

Daarnaast hebben de auteurs in het verhaal een aantal bekende kenmerken van Scrum aan het gebruik van Kanban toegevoegd. De dagelijkse Standup, Retrospective en Definition of Done zijn ingebed. Zij hebben deze practises hiermee onderdeel gemaakt van Kanban, logisch want deze Agile practices zijn hiervoor prima geschikt. Puristen zullen zeggen dat zij hiermee feitelijk ScrumBan beschreven hebben. Deze samenvoeging doet echter niets af aan de waarde van het verhaal en sluit aan bij de ontwikkelingen in de praktijk. Zo heeft Scrum.org vorige maand een publicatie uitgebracht waarbij Kanban wordt beschreven als werkwijze binnen Scrum teams. [zie https://www.scrum.org/resources/kanban-guide-scrum-teams].

In de bijlagen van het boek zijn tevens twee extra’s opgenomen ‘Personal Kanban’ en ‘Het vliegtuigspel’. De laatste sprak mij het meeste aan en geeft snel inzicht in de kracht van Pull. Probeer deze eens uit met je team en je zult zien wat het effect is van een kleine aanpassing in werkafspraken.

Conclusie

Kanban in de Praktijk is geschikt voor iedereen die weinig bekend is met de werkwijze Kanban en graag met concrete voorbeelden en/of stappen werkt. Mocht je een vlotte lezer zijn dan bestaat de kans dat je het boekje binnen een uur uit hebt. Dat is geen ramp, in dat geval ben je waarschijnlijk ook al bekender met de materie en kun je wellicht met een aantal tips direct aan de slag.

Over deze recensie
Deze boekrecensie is tevens verschenen op www.managementboek.nl, meer informatie over het boek of de auteurs is te vinden op www.growingagile.co.za.

Filled Under: agile,book review,kanban,scrum,software development Posted on: 6 April 2018

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Agitma & Sjors in the media

It can be interesting to see what Google can find on you. I just tried it out…
Besides the usual stuff, like the content of the Agitma website, they came up with a few other pages as well (most of them are in Dutch)

Interview with FourCorners on their Agile journey: www.werken20.nl/agile-werken-verovert-creatieve-sector
Interview with De Baak: debaak.nl/een-hork-van-een-manager-blijft-ook-met-agile-een-hork
Meetup in Craiova: meetup.com/Craiova-Software-Technology-Meetup
Girlsday at ING Mobile: www.ing.jobs/Girlsday-bij-ING
Old interview for Info Support: www.youtube.com/infosupport
Bachelor thesis award: www.computable.nl/prijs-voor-scriptie-autonomie-in-softwarestructuren
Scrum.org profile: www.scrum.org
Karate (personal): www.arnhemsekoerier.nl/je-afkomst-of-baan-speelt-geen-rol

Note: the last one is not directly work related, but a nice picture to share..

Filled Under: agile,personal Posted on: 23 March 2018

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What I gained from 100+ retrospectives

Nothing teaches better lessons on retrospectives than running retrospectives in practice. In this blog I will share personal lessons on retros and some ideas for alternative structures. The first four topic describe mindsets and things to consider during preparation or follow ups. The latter four provide ideas on alternative retro formats.

Boy-scout-approach: It is okay not to have life changing outcomes of the retro. Small steps count very much in the overall picture. If every retro would produce a live changing outcome, all teams would be top notch by now. Why not use a boy-scout-approach: each time you sit together try to leave the room in a slightly better shape than you came in. It is just like Uncle Bob advises programmers to do before checking in code.

No absolutism in having one: It is also okay to skip the retro occasionally, for example when the whole team wants to work on finishing an important feature in a sprint or simply because a lot of people are not in. This forms no problem just as long as this is incidentally and not structural.

Attendees & information: Some teams and Scrum Masters are really outspoken on who should or should not attend their retrospectives. My personal ‘ground rules’ are:
– Always invite and encourage Product Owners to join in;
– Let management know they can sometimes join, I only invite them directly when needed;
– Actively share the outcomes of the retro with PO, teams and management.
For me it is a healthy sign if Product Owners like to participate and have a genuine interest in being there. In general, the same holds for occasional attendance of line management or perhaps even project managers. In case of the latter two, their role should be kept equal to that of the team members or should be that of an observer. Although when teams don’t feel safe anymore, you should reconsider the setting and check what is hindering the team. In case (project) management or Product Owners show no interest in the outcomes, this indicates a gap in involvement and should be addressed. Of course, there is a mutual obligation to inform, but management should have a basic interest in the teams.

Historical perspective: Save the teams retro outcomes in a form, so you can see what is happening over time. Not just to check if actions and outcomes are put to effective use. If you have done this a few times for multiple starting teams, you see some patterns emerging. For example, in the type of topics discussed during retros. Knowledge, team spirit, basic rules on the Agile Way of Working are all topics to be found for starting teams. More importantly, you can see if topics reoccur and if topics in general relate to more process or enhanced improvements. These insights enable you to think about the ‘why’ of these reoccurring topics and appropriate actions.

Team-coffee: After a sprint went sour, it could work just to have a team-coffee and let people spill their guts and let their frustrations run freely. Change of scenario helps in getting people in the trusted zone to talk. No need for a formal routine, just write down what you hear and do a summary & wrap up of what you have heard to. If you feel more comfortable with increased structure, you can follow the steps of lean coffee to steer the session, see: lean coffee.

Communication & personalities: Working on team collaboration and being able to understand each other’s dos and don’ts can add real value. I have created an easy format to help teams through a session by prepping and explaining themselves. The personal test results are not interesting to me – although sometimes the combined results of a team can tell you a few things – but it certainly is a nice personal pitch starter. By allowing everyone to share their own characteristics people often surprise each other. For more info on the format see: retrospective-team-communication-and-personalities.

Feedback & speed dating: For teams who are a more familiar with each other, you can try a setup for providing and accepting feedback. Step one would be to share some basic rules and theory. And of course, invite people to provide each other feedback. Mind that this usually does not mean people will start doing it. It seems giving feedback is not that easy. A little trick here is to setup a retro like a speed date session. People sit in one-on-one sessions and give each other a tip and a compliment on their work in the team. This will help team members overcome the first hesitations to share their thoughts. To conclude everyone can present the top-tip he or she received to the group.

Retro tools: In some situations, you might be part of a co-located team. The team could be spread across a building, city or even across countries and time zones. Working in these teams requires extra energy and work from everybody. This is especially true for sessions like a retro where discussions and interactions are the foundation of valuable outcome. Some tools support distributed retrospectives like retrospectives-tool-for-distributed-retrospectives. Even when you are perfectly sitting together, the change in format by using a digital tool can be fun.

Additional reading:

samples.leanpub.com/funretrospectives-sample.pdf (retro formats)
leanpub.com/50quickretrospectives (retro formats)
www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/blog/a-simple-way-to-run-a-sprint-retrospective
(basic explanation of running a retrospective by Mike Cohn)

Agile Retrospectives – Making Good Teams Great (Esther Derby & Diana Larsen)
Coaching Agile Teams (Lyssa Adkins)
Large-Scale Scrum – Chapter 14 (Craig Larman & Bas Vodde)

Special thanx to Stefan Jansen for letting me use the retro picture as he is the only person recognizable in the collage. Furthermore, the teams of Zoover, Weeronline, PGGM, Info Support, Softelligence and FourCorners have very much contributed!

Filled Under: agile,scrum,software development Posted on: 9 March 2018

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Vertrouwen in de slimme samenleving

Wij mensen zijn maar vreemd. We geven aan organisaties steeds minder te vertrouwen. Tegelijkertijd delen we makkelijker en vaker persoonlijke informatie, vaak zonder dat we hierbij bewust stilstaan.

Er is veel onduidelijkheid over de consequenties hiervan en hoe we onszelf als maatschappij zouden moeten organiseren. In Vertrouwen in de slimme samenleving geven Sander Klous en Nart Wielaard de lezer een nieuwe bril om naar de wereld te kijken en ideeën om ons anders te organiseren.

Als je het vorige boek van Sander Klous en Nart Wielaard Wij zijn big data met interesse hebt gelezen dan is hun nieuwste werk Vertrouwen in de slimme samenleving zeker de moeite waard. In dit boek leggen zij uit waarom een maatschappelijke inrichting gebaseerd op Modulair, Agile en Decentraal (MAD) kan helpen in het bewaren van ons vertrouwen in de technologische ontwikkelingen en de alsmaar slimmer wordende samenleving.

Het boek is opgedeeld in 2 delen met in totaal 12 hoofdstukken. In het eerste deel leggen de auteurs uit waar de complexiteit in onze huidige samenleving uit bestaat en wat MAD hierin zou kunnen betekenen. Deel twee ziet op de delicate balans tussen het terugwinnen van vertrouwen en de rol en vorm van het noodzakelijk toezicht. Elk hoofdstuk wordt afgesloten met een beknopte tussenconclusie.

Deel I – Complexiteit en mad: naar een slimme samenleving
In een vlot tempo beschrijven de auteurs de problemen die de huidige maatschappelijke ontwikkelingen en technologische mogelijkheden meebrengen. Waar komt de complexiteit vandaan en hoe kunnen we hier grip op houden? Het laatste zou wellicht met behulp van MAD kunnen. Vervolgens wordt ingezoomd op zelfsturing en regulering, de voor- en nadelen van platformorganisaties en het verband tussen openheid en vertrouwen. Voorbeelden worden onder andere gevonden in defensie, vervoersstromen en inmiddels bekende IT-organisaties zoals Spotify en Netflix.

Deel II – De rol van vertrouwen in de slimme samenleving
Met het paradoxale verband tussen transparantie en vertrouwen legt Deel II de link met Deel I. In dit deel wordt vertrouwen toegespitst op de inzet van algoritmes. In de hoofdstukken 10 tot en met 12 gaan de auteurs richting de kernvraag van het boek; op welke wijze kan MAD worden ingezet om toezicht zodanig te organiseren dat het aansluit bij de behoefte van zowel consumenten, overheden als het commerciële bedrijfsleven?

Persoonlijk werd ik getriggerd door een korte paragraaf in hoofdstuk 9. Hierin worden algoritmes en geavanceerde robots besproken. Zullen wij in de toekomst een nieuwe rechtspersoon tegenkomen met rechten en plichten voor robots? Geen idee, het klinkt nu nog erg futuristisch. Maar, zoals de auteurs aangeven, zo werd er ook gedacht over rechtspersonen als de B.V. en N.V., constructies die pas sinds de VOC-tijd bestaan. Yuval Noah Harari licht dit onderwerp in Sapiens – A Brief history of Humankind erg goed toe.

De combinatie van de algemene verhaallijn en de toepasselijke voorbeelden en anekdotes zorgen voor een prettig leesbaar boek. Alhoewel veel voorbeelden zien op casuïstiek uit de informatietechnologie is het niet nodig hier op voorhand volledig van op de hoogte te zijn. Zonder dat sprake is van over-simplificering worden problemen of paralellen helder uiteengezet. Op deze wijze worden de spanningen tussen bijvoorbeeld commerciële doelstellingen en individuele persoonlijke belangen mooi onderstreept.

Conclusie

Met een kort voorwoord van Cathy O’Neil, schrijfster van Weapons of math destruction, weet je dat het goed zit. De auteurs hebben wederom laten zien samen een goed schrijversduo te zijn. Voor iedereen met zorgen en vragen over de huidige technologische ontwikkelingen en benodigd maatschappelijk toezicht is dit een absolute aanrader.

Over deze recensie
Deze boekrecensie is tevens verschenen op www.managementboek.nl, meer informatie over het boek of de auteurs is te vinden op nart.nl.

Filled Under: agile,book review Posted on: 22 February 2018

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Scaling agile in organisaties – Henny Portman

Verdwaald in het land van Agile frameworks, practices en scaling opties? In Scaling agile in organisaties neemt Henny Portman de lezer bij de hand en leidt hem langs de vele smaken en mogelijkheden die het Agile landschap inmiddels rijk is. Voor iedereen die zijn horizon wil verbreden of een referentie zoekt voor zijn of haar organisatie, is dit boek een prima startpunt.

Henny Portman is een ervaren IT-professional met een lange staat van dienst in projectmanagement rollen en de laatste jaren tevens werkzaam op het snijvlak met Agile werkwijzen. Hij heeft meerdere boeken en artikelen op zijn naam staan en is daarnaast als trainer werkzaam. In zijn recente boek Scaling agile in organisaties geeft hij een overzicht van de bekende en minder bekende Agile scaling werkwijzen.

Het boek is opgebouwd uit drie overzichtelijk delen, ieder met een duidelijk thema. De eerste drie inhoudelijke hoofdstukken beslaan achtereenvolgens Scrum, Kanban en Lean. Hierop volgt een hoofdstuk waarin de auteur zijn visie geeft op de veranderde rol van projectmanagement.

Het zwaartepunt van het boek ligt in de hoofdstukken 6 t/m 14 en beschrijft de inhoud van de verschillende Agile scaling frameworks. De opzet van het framework is hierin leidend en de auteur neemt de lezer mee in de belangrijkste kenmerken en toepassingen. De usual suspects als SAFe, Nexus, LeSS en Spotify zijn present. Tevens is ruimte genomen om een aantal minder bekende frameworks beknopt de revue te laten passeren.

Het derde en laatste deel omvat drie hoofdstukken en start met een gecomprimeerd overzicht van de meestgebruikte frameworks aan de hand van de kenmerkentabel. Daarnaast geeft Portman in dit deel een handreiking aan organisaties voor het selecteren en toepassen van een dergelijk framework.

Deel I: Eén agile team maakt de gehele organisatie nog niet wendbaar
1. Inleiding
2. Scrum in een notendop
3. Kanban in vogelvlucht
4. De essentie van lean
5. Invloed van agile op projectmanagement

Deel II: Verschillende frameworks voor scaling
6. Overzicht
7. SAFe
8. Nexus
9. Scrum at Scale
10. LeSS
11. Spotify
12. PRINCE2 Agile
13. AgilePM
14. Overige frameworks

Deel III: Selecteren en implementeren
15. De verschillende methodes naast elkaar
16. Transitie naar wendbaarheid
17. Epiloog

Het schrijven van een gestructureerd overzichtswerk over de verschillende Agile scalings methoden is absoluut een uitdaging. De auteur is erin geslaagd een aardig overzicht te creëren en plaats te geven aan grote en kleinere spelers. Naast de frameworks benoemt Portman ook diverse practices die veelvuldig worden gebruikt, zoals story maps, agile release trains en open spaces. De opzet van het boek leent zich prima voor cherry picking op onderwerpen waar je snel wat meer informatie over wilt. Tip: als je bekend bent met Scrum/Kanban/Lean, sla dan gerust de eerste drie inhoudelijke hoofdstukken over.

Naast het agile gedachtegoed hinkt het boek echter ook op een andere gedachte. Namelijk die van de projectmanagers en hun veranderende rol binnen organisaties. Gezien de achtergrond van de schrijver wellicht niet verrassend, maar binnen dit boek niet helemaal op zijn plaats.

Zoals zo vaak binnen de Agilewereld is er geen goed of fout voor het inzetten van een bepaald framework maar geldt ‘It depends’. Afhankelijk van de organisatie, de omstandigheden van de markt, de tooling die reeds beschikbaar is en/of het budget, is de keuze voor de een logischer dan de keuze voor de ander. Ook de inzet an sich is niet allesbepalend. Ieder framework moet worden getuned en aangevuld met practices die passen bij een specifieke situatie.

Conclusie

Scaling agile in organisaties is een nuttig startpunt om je een beeld te vormen van de materie en een gevoel te krijgen bij de verschillende frameworks en de belangrijkste kenmerken en termen daarvan. Vanwege het karakter van het boek zal de lezer zijn verdere verdiepingsslag zelf moeten maken in andere (online) literatuur.

Over deze recensie
Deze boekrecensie is tevens verschenen op www.managementboek.nl, meer informatie over het boek of de auteurs is te vinden op hwpconsulting.nl.

Filled Under: agile,book review Posted on: 16 January 2018

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Retrospectives: tool for distributed retrospectives

Little gem for distributed retrospectives!
In recent years, I have worked with distributed teams occasionally. In an early team an eager colleague, Stefan Kemp, created an interesting responsive web application to support retrospectives in this team setup. That is already 5 years ago. Up until this week I have been using his app for different customers and teams. Let me walk you through it and share my enthusiasm.

Step 1: Getting organized
As a first-timer you create your account and you can register a new team straight away, go here: retrospective.rhea.infosupport.net. Once you are in, you can invite your fellow team members via email. Then you can plan your next retro and instruct everyone that the retro app is going to be used – and more importantly – is already waiting for the first items! There are three types of input awaiting: positive items, improvement topics and flowers to thank team members or other involved teams or persons.

Step 2: The retro
Usually the Scrum Master drives the retro, but in theory anyone can guide the team through the session. It works best if you have shared audio and a shared screen. In that case, everyone can see what is happening on the same screen . Depending on your organization’s tool-setup these can be facilitated by different technical solutions (e.g.: Skype, Polycom, Communicator or Hangout).

Before you start it is good to check if everyone was able to provide the input before the session. If not, you can take a couple of minutes to do so. Another approach would be to let people do it on the spot when it is their turn. When started, one person at a time explains his or her inputs and places these onto the shared canvas. In case people have prepared the same topics, these can be grouped together. If any item is no longer valid it can be deleted. After everyone has finished, it is time to vote and give the last sprint a personal rating. The voting and rating can be done on the screen or by personal device (tablet, phone or pc). For the mobile devices an easy access a QR-code is presented so everyone can get to the mobile version available in an instant.

The voting and rating result in an ordered list of improvement topics to discuss. Each topic can be given concrete actions and remarks. The actions can have a responsible team member assigned to it, or the team as a whole.

Step 3: Wrap up
Once you have discussed enough topics, or the time is up, you can finish the retro. The Scrum Master can send everyone the outcomes of the retro, so actions can be taken into the next sprint or picked up immediately. In the next retro you can start by looking back at the open action items and check what the results are.

Conclusion

The supported flow and functionality is pretty much that of a default retro with everyone available in the same room. The app itself is very easy to understand, usually after one first retro everyone is fully up to speed to use it to its maximum the next time. Even if you don’t have a distributed team the tool can be used. Either as the default modus operandi or as a change of retro scenery. Thanks Stefan!

Top features include:
• A very swift set up for your team, including invitations
• Adding your personal input throughout the sprint
• Easy format during the retro, including grouping and voting to reduce the numbers of topics
• Emails to remind your team of upcoming retro’s and the outcomes of them
• Some nice charts and trends related to team characteristics

Filled Under: agile,scrum Posted on: 9 January 2018

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Retrospectives: communication & personalities

Some time ago, I experimented with some team retros to start discussion and exploration on our communication and the team’s personalities. After a few tries I came up with this small format. It helped me and my teams getting a swift feeling on each other’s do’s & don’ts and to create a general team vibe. You can use this format either at a new team formation or whenever you are looking for an alternative retro.

Invite & preparation
This format starts with an explicit invite and personal preparation. Thinking on your individual story and using the results to formulate your ideas before the session gives people a head start and saves time during the session. In case new topics do come up, you can always still on-board them on the fly. For the Scrum Master this phase means collecting and preparing all the inputs and making sure they are available during the session.

Retro_invite

The actual retro
All team members do their personal pitch with the help of their preparation and a personal page provided by the Scrum Master. Sometimes teams are a bit shy to start. So it can be a good idea as a facilitator to start by setting the example and presenting your own slide. Usually other team members will come up with questions and then the session is kick started easily.

Retro Individual Slide

Team overview
After everybody has had his turn, you can present the team overview. The more diverse the better. A picture can tell a story but the value for me is in the interaction and flow that is created during the retro. Besides, most teams like to see their team picture! Based on the kind of tests you have selected for your team, you can get different options for visualization of course. There is no need for expensive material or assessment centers. Start with the options that are easy to use and for free (like the ones I have used).

Team Slide Personalities
Note: in the end it does not really matter which tests you use. This approach as such helps people thinking and talking about themselves. Although the graphs merely act as conversation starters, they do tell you a thing or two about the team……

Have fun!

Filled Under: agile,scrum Posted on: 11 December 2017

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Visualization helps Agile Teams & Organizations

Transparency is one of the corner stones of great Agile teams and organizations. If that is the case, isn’t it strange that so many teams have little outwards visualizations? Not only teams benefit from visualization, but also management and other stakeholders could gain direct insights from the information presented. In this blog, I will discuss visualization from different perspectives using my own checklist as a starting point (see at the bottom of this blog). At the end, I will share a few pointers to get you started.

The eight examples on my checklist are a nice start. Depending on your team or department characteristics, you can probably add a dozen others. Some at least as important as the ones on the list. However, the true value for me lies in the dialogues and questions that arise from them instead of the – more fundamental – discussion on which items should or should not be on the list.

Team perspective
Let’s start with the team perspective. The first reaction and question that usually pops up is: for whom are we visualizing? Unarguably, it should be for ourselves and our stakeholders. So, if we do it for ourselves, we need to have information radiating that is important and useful for us. In my opinion, all topics on the checklist should matter to any given team. If not, there is a chance something is off in the basic way the team is functioning and/or supported by its organization. Do it, pick one topic and argue that it is not important for a healthy routine of your team.

The second reaction from teams can come from two directions: “we don’t have that information” or “it takes too much time to gather it”. Both arguments are excellent starting points for valuable discussions – during retro’s or just over coffee. Not having the information means that your team is flying in the dark. Either the product or the company’s road map is not clear or perhaps the feedback loop for continuous improvements is not implemented. If collecting these basic team drivers takes too much time, chances are that tooling is not in place or not used correctly. The reactions mentioned in this paragraph are indicators that the Way of Working can be improved.

Management perspective
Let us shift to the managerial perspective. In more Agile oriented organizations this perspective often leads to a different reaction compared to the ones above. “My teams are self-organizing, self-managing or self-supporting, so they decide what is shown and needed.” Wrong! As long as managers are responsible for their performance – either hierarchical or via a more servant-leadership – it is their job to have an interest in these subjects. If not, they’ll have a tough time explaining what added value they have for their teams and thus their organization. For example, how can a team manager not want to see Impediments or improvements made by his or her teams? In addition, teams often need directions and coaching on organizational goals and drivers. Outward visualization helps the process of aligning the organizational goals and the Way of Working of the teams.

In practice, it can be challenging to implement and decide on the most useful visualizations for your teams or department. Remember it is good to try things and ask around who is interested in what information. Or as a manager, discuss with your teams what the goal and improvements are from an organizational point of view. If done right, the information not only benefits the teams, it is also a source of information that could substitute numeral status meetings.

Stakeholder perspective
The third and last perspective is that of the stakeholders. Top priorities for stakeholders usually contain the question: “When is this or that feature finished?” By showing this information crystal clear in the team area, the team provides the stakeholders with direct insight. Moreover, it helps by building confidence and making the team predictable for its environment. Perhaps the expected date example is a bit simplified. How about this one: create a good Story map of the current product (iteration) and put it in a visible place in the area. Make sure you add significant release dates, in case you don’t go to production in every sprint yet. Now, the timeline has its own functional context which makes clear what the stakeholders can expect. For teams, it is good to adjust to the stakeholder’s needs. Thus, especially as a Product Owner you should invest in what the stakeholders would like to see and hear from the team. Also, be confident to use visualization and communication forms you have seen working before.

A few pointers to get started
Responsibility: who’s responsible for visualization? When teams just start, most of the times it is the Scrum Master who begins with Burn down charts and Impediment boards followed by other more Scrum – or process – related information. In my opinion, it should be a Scrum team effort. In other words, everybody – also the Product Owner – is using the team area to show road maps, examples or key metrics. This will stimulate the philosophy that if it is important for the team, we put it up there. Anyone can decide or try to use some new metric or insight. This does not mean that other stakeholders cannot let the team know what they would like to see.

Gemba walks: one practice that provides insights to all stakeholders is doing Gemba walks across multiple team areas. Don’t ask how things are going straight away. Instead, look around and see what the information presented is telling you. I have used this technique also with colleagues visiting other teams. Besides entertaining it is an easy mechanism to share practices and bring teams a little closer. A Gemba walk might be a catalyst for explorations on visualization benefits for teams, managers and stakeholders.

How to show: I did not elaborate on the form in which information is shown. That is on purpose. Depending on the team, tools and context, you’ll get different outcomes. The fact that I am not a great sketch artist results in more print outs for my teams. In companies with big screens available in team areas you can have as much metrics and info on the screen as you would like. In some companies on the other hand, there is a strict clean desk policy and very little information is allowed to radiate from team areas.

Conclusion

The discussions and feedback from teams and stakeholders can be as valuable as the visualizations themselves. So, make sure you are aware of their thoughts and needs before mounting all kinds of information to the walls. Depending on your role you can initiate the dialogue with or within your teams in diverse ways. Use the checklist, the Gemba walk or any another conversion-starter in your team or department to explore the benefits of visualization. I am curious to hear your experiences and/or remarks. The discussion and feedback from teams and stakeholders can be just as valuable as the visualizations themselves. So make sure you have these before you start mounting all kinds of information to the walls, or demanding this as management.

Visualization
Download the one-pager: Visualization helps Teams and Organizations

References

There is a lot of information out there, so I added just a few examples to get you going:
[1] www.infoq.com: Visualize Agile https://www.infoq.com/visualize-big-picture-agile
[2] Ben Linders: Visualizations https://www.benlinders.com/visualization-team-deliver-value/
[3] www.thoughtworks.com: Story-mapping https://www.thoughtworks.com/story-mapping
[4] Toolbox for the Agile Coach – 96 Visualization examples, Jimmy Janlén, 2015
[5] Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins, 2010

Filled Under: agile,agile projectmanagement,kanban,scrum Posted on: 1 September 2017

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Interview with De Baak – Sjors Meekels

Being a manager-freak does not necessarily change while working Agile.

Daily planking to ensure short and concise sessions
I am now in an environment where we need to work with several teams simultaneously. In order to let people interact in another way, among others, I organize boot camps. Working out together; that is an excellent way to get to know each other better. It is team transient and it creates short lines. If you also know people from a different setting, it will make a difference than just passing the office. In addition, I have also seen organizations where they do the daily stand-up in the planking pose. Be sure that it helps keep things short and concise.

Working Agile won’t solve all problems, it does make them very visible though
I have been enthusiastic about working with agile teams and organizations for years. Being part of the IT side of an organization, you know how difficult it is to build things well and, on the other hand, to build the right things. The faster the uncertainties and problems that clutter the process are made clear, the better it is for everyone.
Sometimes you see new management that thinks ‘that’s a great method that will solve a lot of things for us’, they are wrong. Agile does not solve organizational problems. It will help, but the problems themselves are not resolved. The problems are systematically and quickly made visible.

Trust is an important bottleneck in transitions
An important bottleneck in an Agile transition is to keep everything controlled. One of the values of Agile is to make teams responsible and in control. Make them self-organizing to solve problems and do everything needed to become successful. This requires trust from managers and the room to fail. Sometimes this proves to be hard, it is not how we are used to run companies or departments. For all distinct roles we had people, procedures and guidelines. To overcome this, is a major challenge for a lot of organizations.

Don’t envy a Product Owner’s position
The Product Owner is the one who determines what is being build and in which order. He also ensures that stakeholders are involved continuously. It is a crucial role. The Product Owner must act in a field with many different interests, multiple stakeholders and many different priorities.
Classic is the contradiction between developing new customer demands versus upgrades or maintenance of systems. New opportunities then collide with the continuity of the systems.
So, you’ll have to be an excellent Product Owner with a good vision of what is best for the company. ‘Quick wins’ and stability of the system should be considered. That is an unfortunate position! A product owner must act as a small entrepreneur and be daring. In my opinion, this is the most critical role in an Agile environment. The Product Owner is the one controlling flame or fame.

Cross team knowledge sharing: Lunch pitches
Also within an Agile context knowledge sharing will not happen on its own. If a team has gained brilliant insights, as an organization you’ll want other teams to learn from it. At one organization, we actively went shopping at the teams. If you have something you would like to share, please let us know, we will schedule it. We made sure that were no blockers: at lunch time! There are always a few first movers who will stand up: I have something to share. ”

Does Agile impact the way we communicate?
Communication per se? I do not see that would be very different if you work agile. If you were a freak in the old organization, you could be very well be one the agile organization.

About this interview

This interview was originally in Dutch and held for De Baak, in case you’re interested: interview. De Baak is one of Hollands leading firms when it comes to education on topics as management and leadership. More information about De Baak can be found here: www.debaak.nl. Any faults in the translation can only be my mistake…

Filled Under: agile Posted on: 17 June 2017

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Product Owners! What is dominant on your Backlog: Urgent or Important matters?

Product Owners have a great responsibility in prioritizing the work on the Backlogs. Their role can hardly be underestimated. How about some support from the past? Decades ago Eisenhower made a quote on important and urgent matters. His idea has transferred into a matrix used to prioritize personal actions. Can Eisenhower’s priority matrix help Product Owners in prioritizing backlog items? I think so. In this post I will combine Eisenhower’s ideas with those of Agile product backlog management, and a little wild life.

Eisenhower’s matrix
In short, Eisenhower’s matrix focuses on four distinctive quadrants created by the two viewpoints – urgency and importance. The goal is to determine someone’s priorities [1][2].

Urgent matters: require immediate attention. If possible you should act on these matters now. Important matters: these relate to long term objectives and need constant focus. When combined this leads to the following overview and actions:

Eisenhower Matrix

Now let’s transpose these quadrants to backlog management in an Agile environment. All work on the Backlog can be qualified according to Eisenhower’s quadrants. But what is the optimum setup for your Sprint Backlog? Is there any? Based on the model, I will discuss a set of situations which are all taken from projects and teams I have worked with over the years. In these situations, teams are working on Product Backlog Items that primarily originate from one of the quadrants. To make teams easily recognizable, they all have a different nickname which sticks out.

 

1. Orange Firefighters, brave and busy
Agile firefighting dog

If your teams are busy working on the urgent important issues or new work of this category is entered each running sprint, it seems like your teams are firefighting. This is only a good thing when a) there is an actual fire and b) – more importantly – they can extinguish the fire. If this pattern is more the rule than the exception, changes are something is not OK. This could relate to your production environment, either the applications, the infra, people handling it, or all. Try to look for the root causes and fix those, via the regular process of course. Instead of focusing on optimizing the fire-hoses and firemen. Although your teams are working on the top priority work items, there are risks and down sights. For example, every Product Backlog item which is refined or taken in the sprint and pushed out by the orange firefighters, has been a waste of time. Moreover, the company’s short term future may get hurt if this situation occurs for too long a time.

PROS: working on top priority items, CONS: waste in preparation time, pressure within teams, ATTENTION: should not persist for long, focus on fixing root causes!

 

2. Blue Coyotes, opportunistic
Agile Coyote

Sometimes teams are working on urgent but not important issues sprint after sprint. These teams are the so-called coyotes. This scenario also raises an interesting question. Are those issues really urgent? If you and your team tend to say no, there should be a dialogue. Re-discuss these issues with your stakeholders and try to balance them out with your company’s important stories. In practice it is more convenient to work on topics that are urgent to our stakeholders now. However, don’t go for convenient, but invest in discussions and long-term goals.

Okay, so are you done when the answer is yes? Well, sorry, no. If this situation is continues for a long period of time, it could be a sign that you are understaffed. Not working on the important issues, could be a serious threat to business continuity on the long term. Perhaps you can consider to appoint a temporary team that can eliminate the ‘pile’ of urgent stuff, which is in the way of working on the important stories. However, one thing should be in place before you scale up: a clear vision on what is actually important. This may sound like a no-brainer, but more than a few Product Owners are struggling in identifying what is really contributing to the company’s future.

PROS: satisfying to stakeholders, CONS: not working on the long run, ATTENTION: are backlog items really that urgent or is there too much stuff in the way?

 

3. Green Tortoises, steady but a bit boring
Agile Tortoise

The third scenario reflects the mindset of the tortoise. Namely, where the majority of the work directly relates to important backlog items. Good for you, you keep the company or department in business. However, you might be missing out on immediate revenues from low hanging fruit. Why not optimize your SEO rank now and then, or eliminate that bug 80% of your users are complaining about? These small improvements won’t harm the long-term objective and they do give you a change to help users, increase the short-term cash-flow and satisfy a few stakeholders along the way. Like their nickname, these projects or teams can be a bit boring and move slowly towards a certain ‘old age’ or goal. In their journey, they could lose the connection with the rest of the organization when results are not made visible in the meantime. Besides that, if these projects entail migration without new functionalities, also the teams can get bored. They may benefit from the diversion of small improvement stories.

PROS: working on the mission of the company, CONS: in long running projects stakeholders can get detached, ATTENTION: room for quick wins along the way?

 

4. Well… Black Dodo’s
Agile Dodo

If you have teams working on the black stuff, something is off. Perhaps you are way overstaffed, or backlog management is in utterly disorder. Avoid this situation at all costs. When nothing changes soon these teams will become extinct…

PROS: none, CONS: waste of time and energy for all, ATTENTION: immediate action required!

Balancing act, rhythm and focus

Do you feel like you are getting mixed signals now? You are right. This is the arena where great Product Owners can stand out of the mediocre crowd. If they are able to balance the Product Backlog with the stakeholders and find a rhythm together with their team(s) to ensure enough focus, you have a winning combination. Relevant questions to be answered are: Who is your most important stakeholder? And how are competing stakeholders managed? What is most important for the customer and the future of the company?

A predicable heartbeat helps the team and PO in delivering on regular intervals. Yet, it also promotes alignment in the rest of the organization. The characteristics play an profound role in the optimum heartbeat. For example, if you are part of a true DevOps team, you know ad-hoc work (important and urgent issues) will emerge and that is part of your sprint routine. In another case you might have a more component oriented team, building stuff for other teams.

If you only have one development team available, the balancing act of shifting priorities becomes more precarious. The team can feel comfortable working on multiple topics in one sprint and it is not forbidden to do so, as long as there is enough clarity and stories are really Done at sprint’s end. However, most teams benefit from focus during the sprint, so when possible, craft your Sprint goal on one or two categories only. You could for example spend one sprint on urgent matters and the next two or three on the important trajectory. In general, true orange stories are always executed asap. When multiple teams are involved you can have more flexibility and for example rotate duties between teams every few sprints.

Last thoughts

So, Eisenhower can help in identifying certain wanted or unwanted patterns in your current Product Backlog. What it cannot do is provide the ‘correct’ distribution. That task is still meant for the Product Owners and their teams. I am curious, what kind of wildlife represent your teams currently and how is your Backlog setup in terms of Eisenhower’s quadrants?

References

[1] Eisenhower: http://www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix
[2] Eisenhower: http://www.businessinsider.com/dwight-eisenhower…..
[3] Coyote: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coyote
[4] Tortoise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tortoise
[5] Dodo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodo

Filled Under: agile,scrum Posted on: 14 April 2017

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